SOARING HIGH: Students Learn First-Hand About Aviation Through Hot Air Balloon Ride Experience – Mississippi’s Best Community Newspaper

NATCHEZ – Many in the Miss-Lou saw nearly 40 different hot air balloons fly during the 36e Annual Natchez Balloon Festival just two weeks ago, but for students at Robert Lewis Magnet School, the fun didn’t end there.

Kurt Vitense, a pilot from St. Peters Missouri who bought a home in Natchez earlier this year, stayed longer before and after the festival to help Elizabeth Greer’s “Project Lead the Way” engineering class learn more about flying.

“This is a brand new program offered this school year,” said Greer. It so happened that at the dawn of the Natchez Balloon Festival, the subject of study of his courses was aviation.

She asked Vitense to inflate a hot air balloon at school for her class to get them more interested in the subject and they quickly started talking about a plan to allow some of her students to fly. Greer asked his students to write an essay on hot air balloons, and Vitense would choose the best ones to take their authors on a hot air balloon ride.

It didn’t take a lot of persuasion for Vitense to agree, Greer said.

“From the moment I asked Captain Kurt to bring his hot air balloon to the RLMS and demonstrate the scientific concepts of mass, volume and density, I could tell he was almost as excited as my students,” said she declared. “It was a beautiful day outside as the students gathered near Captain Kurt’s pod to see up close the huge propane burners that heat the air inside his balloon, causing it to go downhill. raise.

“The first time he pulled the lever and ignited the massive flames, my students instinctively got out of the way, realizing firsthand the massive amount of heat and energy it takes for a balloon to lift off the ground and fly. . … Like most of us in Natchez, my students saw the balloons take off; However, having the opportunity to watch and learn every step of the inflation, flight and deflation process was definitely a once in a lifetime experience.

After reading their essays, Vitense selected six students to fly with him in a hot air balloon on Tuesday. The winners who were able to fly are Emma Davis, Triston Floyd, Kendra McDonald, Jeremiah Minor, Alyssa Nelson and Gerren Smith.

Vitense said the aviation industry is experiencing a pilot shortage and he wanted to spark interest in aviation among a younger generation. Vitense also wanted to show them that involvement in the ballooning is not beyond their reach, he said. Anyone in Natchez can be involved in the Natchez Balloon Festival as a volunteer or crew member, and some pilots are generous in giving flights to their crew, he said.

“They see the balloons flying in the sky, but I want to make it known that this is something that is accessible to them. No experience needed. Anyone can be involved in this, ”said Vitense. “I want to generate interest in aviation. But beyond that, here in Natchez with the balloon festival, I want it to represent the diversity of the community. It’s an opportunity for these students to get involved.

Thanks to Greer’s class, Floyd has declared aviation the dream of his new life – and thanks to Vitense, he knows that dream is not beyond his reach.

“My aunt claims I flew right over her house, but I really think we were at least 500 feet from her,” he said. “I never thought I would be 2556 feet in the air. But hey, like Captain Kurt said, anything is possible. If I had the chance to do it again, I wouldn’t hesitate to fly with Captain Kurt in his hot air balloon.

Nelson said she spent the night feeling nervous about the flight and was surprised how cool it was when she finally flew.

“As the ball flew up, I was really surprised that I wasn’t really, really scared,” she said. “Some of the things I remember about the ride is that all the cars looked like toys. I could even recognize some of the buildings up there.

Minor echoed Nelson’s feelings about the theft.

“Getting on Captain Kurt’s hot air balloon was a great time, although it was a little scary at first. Then my fears flew away as soon as we got up in the sky, ”he said. “When we were 300 meters in the sky, everything was as small as ants on the ground. During the ride, I was so impressed that I thought I was just dreaming of getting into a hot air balloon and was not there.

“When we crossed the Mississippi River, I was so scared. I thought, “What if the ball fell into the water? But this is not the case. … It was one of the best times of my life, and I will never forget it. I know I will always want to ride again.

Davis marveled at the view over the Mississippi River before the students landed at RV Park in Vidalia on Tuesday night.

“From almost 1,000 feet in the air, everything was different, especially crossing the Mississippi River,” Davis said. “It was beautiful and a prospect I had never seen before. Everything was so small and looked like tiny ants. During the ride I thought about how fun it was and freaked out a little inside because I was so high.

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